Much has been made, understandably, about the progress of third-year inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, who was the 15th-overall selection by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2014 NFL Draft and an immediate day-one starter from his first practice. Most every detail about his physical development on the field has been covered in some form or fashion, much of it by us.
What has been less discussed, however, has been his development in an equally critical role as the team’s mack linebacker. He may be developing into the team’s leading tackler, but he is also, rather importantly, and quite literally, the voice of the defense, a journey that began last year.
You might recall that much of the defense’s early struggles were attributed to issues with communication, which seemed particularly evident in the season opener, and especially when they brought on extraneous personnel, such as a third safety or goal line linebackers for coverage purposes on the tight ends.
Most likely were not aware at the time that it was Shazier who was already responsible for setting up the defense and getting them aligned as the signal caller of the defense, a role that he inherited from Lawrence Timmons, who had admittedly had a tenuous relationship with that role.
It’s never easy to be the mouth piece of an entire unit, and it is especially difficult to quickly grow into that role while you yourself are still trying to grow into your position relative to the rest of the defense. Suffice it to say that the linebacker who is faster than the team’s wide receivers had more on his plate than do most players trying to make their second-year ‘jump’.
The good news is that he improved on all fronts over the course of the year, and according to an article written for Penn Live by Jacob Klinger, he is continuing to progress further and further along in his play-calling responsibilities, and it is showing on the field.
I normally don’t quote standard text from an article that doesn’t directly convey original information, but I don’t think that I could have written this any better, so I will quote directly from the article:
“Most every player looks good and fast in shorts, but thoughts don’t move at any different speed. And more than at any point in his career so far, Shazier is playing like less of a man filled with questions and more of, himself, an answer”.
Klinger interviewed Vince Williams for the piece, who described the third-year linebacker’s role as “the liaison between the defensive line and the secondary”. Williams actually dabbled a bit in play-calling responsibilities as early as his rookie season in 2013. He noted that it’s “not really an understatement” to call the Steelers’ defense a very complicated one.
He sees the differences in Shazier, noting that he is playing with less questions and more answers, with a requisite level of instinctiveness that comes with learning and repetition. The faster that he will be able to think, and to act, the better the defense will be overall in year two as their voice.